A social enterprise has launched in Britain to provide marine conservation jobs in deprived coastal communities
Britain’s beloved but neglected seaside towns are a strange paradox. Inundated in summer, they seem mostly forgotten the rest of the time; research shows that they have higher levels of poverty and unemployment than non-coastal towns. Meanwhile, the nearby ocean cries out for protection.
It’s this twin problem that a new social enterprise aims to fix. The Sea Ranger Service, which launches today in the UK, trains young people from predominately deprived coastal regions to become ocean conservationists, while paying them a salary.
“You could say that it’s kind of a blue-collar job for ocean restoration,” Wietse van der Werf, the enterprise’s founder, tells Positive News. “It breaks the rules a bit because so far it’s mostly activists and scientists who have been involved in this kind of space.”
The Sea Ranger Service was founded in the Netherlands in 2016 and is also operational in France. In both countries, it receives money to service government contracts for ocean conservation. The enterprise has so far trained more than 120 young people to carry out biodiversity restoration, climate research and monitoring. The aim is to train 20,000 people for maritime careers by 2040 – and the UK was a logical location to help it scale up, explains van der Werf.
“The UK is one of the frontrunners in terms of creating marine protected areas – it’s one of the countries that I think has taken a lot of really positive steps,” he says. “Yet, at the same time, like many countries, it is not a core task of government to have specialist ships go out there to protect those areas.”
However, tackling poverty is – or should be – a core task of government. The idea of addressing that while meeting biodiversity targets appeals to policymakers, reckons van der Werf. That young people will be trained by ex-Royal Navy veterans adds clout, he says.
We test people’s strength of character and how they act when they’re under pressure
“If we’re talking about tackling youth unemployment in coastal zones, while bringing veterans and young people together in something that protects the environment, then I think that resonates with people,” says van der Werf, who previously worked as an engineer on ships in Antarctica.
“We’re not campaigning, we’re not activists, we’re not trying to change policies, we just want to make sure that young people can get the skills to improve the management of oceans.”
The Sea Ranger Service is in talks with government departments about servicing conservation contracts in the UK. It is also partnering with organisations such as Project Seagrass, which is restoring the nation’s lost seagrass meadows.
Uniquely, Sea Ranger boats are sail-powered, meaning they tread lightly on the ecosystems they are deployed to protect. Young people on the programme are trained to sail them, a skill that could lead to other career opportunities.
Young Britons aged 18-29 are being invited to apply to take part in the UK programme. But be warned, it’s no picnic. Applicants must go through a rigorous bootcamp to prove they’ve got what it takes to work in challenging circumstances.
“We do push people’s boundaries,” says van der Werf. “We test people’s strength and their strength of character and how they act in a group when they’re under pressure. Ultimately, when you’re going to work in the Celtic Sea for weeks on end, it can be quite rough.”
Successful applicants will take to the water on sailing expeditions from Port Talbot, Wales, where the ship is based, and will be employed as full-time sea rangers.
“For people who haven’t gone to university or don’t have the right qualification to typically go into conservation careers, it’s a real opportunity,” says van der Werf.
Images: Sea Ranger Service
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